‘Ministerial discretion’ raises eyebrows
The decision by a Cabinet Minister to use Ministerial discretion to allow a bus that has exceeded the required 12 years requirement to be brought into the country has raised eyebrows.
The decision was made by the Minister of Revenue and Customs, Tialavea Tionisio Seigafolava, and after “negotiations at Ministerial level,” the bus is in the country as a “one off case.”
Contacted for a comment, Tialavea confirmed that the bus was approved under his discretion as the responsible Minister of Customs.
“My reason for approving is the bus is a (business) development for the family that owns the bus and it will provide a service to our country,” said Tialavea.
“I have no connection with the family and the discretion falls under the social and economic development for the welfare of the general public, which is an essential service.”
The bus was imported from Japan and the Minister said he believes the bus is now on the road.
Tialavea said it is a first time a bus has been approved under the Minister’s discretion, which is usually reserved only for trucks, ambulance vehicles and fire trucks.
“If there wasn’t a discretion (of the Minister) then we would be able to bring in those other essential vehicles.”
The Minister was also asked why he decided to approve this particular bus.
“It appears to be a new case for L.T.A.,” he said. “But the Minister (of Works) has the power to stop it from being on the road. On our side, we released it and L.T.A. takes over…those are the issues, it’s for development of this family and its to provide a service to our country.”
Asked about the safety of the public traveling on bus, the Minister said that was for Land Transport Authority (L.T.A) to determine.
“That is for L.T.A. If they see that it’s not fit to be on the road then I have no authority on that side.”
An investigation done by the Sunday Samoan revealed that the bus was initially rejected by L.T.A when it was taken to Vaitele for registration.
This was confirmed by the L.T.A. Chief Executive Officer, Leasi Vainalepa Galuvao.
Leasi explained that one of the conditions to register a vehicle as a Public Service Vehicle (Taxi or Bus) is that it must be less than twelve years old.
“I can confirm that the Land and Transport Authority did reject the registration of a newly imported bus owned by Mr. Leato Tupuola of Siumu earlier this year in April 2016, due to the bus being over twelve years old,” said Leasi.
“On the 7th April 2016, the L.T.A received a Ministerial Determination Order (“MDO”) from the Hon. Minister of Revenue (signed and dated the 5th April 2016), confirming that the said bus had been approved for importation into Samoa, under the exemption provided at 2D of the Order of Prohibited Imports 2008 dated the 2nd May 2008, in which it was determined by the Hon. Minister of Revenue that the bus was a private specialty vehicle and of national importance.”
Leasi added that applicable customs duty and tax was paid by the bus owner.
He said given the M.D.O. the matter was then referred to the Minister responsible for the L.T.A for his review and further instructions.
The Minister responsible for L.T.A. is the Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’I Niko Lee Hang.
“Following negotiations at a Ministerial level, the Minister responsible for the L.T.A issued his determination to the L.T.A on the 21st July 2016 to allow the registration of the bus as a public service vehicle upon exceptional circumstances, and furthermore, this determination was strictly a one-off case,” explained Leasi.
“In the event that a bus brought in to the L.T.A does not satisfy registration requirements, although the L.T.A does have the authority to impound the bus, the practice of the LTA is that the owner is given the list of inspection requirements that must be satisfied before registration is approved and the bus is released to the owner for his/her appropriate action.”
In moving forward, the Chief Executive Officer said M.O.R. and L.T.A. will continue to work together to ensure a coordinated service for the public.